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Another Senator gives up outside income in the wake of Silver scandal

Posted by Karen DeWitt on

One day after Democrats in the Senate proposed sharply curtailing outside income earned by state lawmakers, the leader of another Senate faction says he’s quitting his private law practice.

Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein says he’s decided to give up his private law practice.

“While I enjoy and love the practice of law, I think now we’re in an ethical crisis,” said Klein, who says he wanted to “lead by example.”

Klein’s decision comes after former Assembly Leader Sheldon Silver was charged by federal prosecutors with  netting millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks that silver characterized as income payments  from two law firms.  Senator Klein says none of his clients had business before the state or presented any kind of a conflict of interest.

“It was really just neighborhood practice,” said Klein.

The Senate IDC Leader says he backs a complete ban on all outside income for state lawmakers.

Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, whose GOP majority rules the Senate, is the second highest earner of private income in the Senate, after former Speaker Silver, as reported in required annual filings with the state ethics commission.  Senator Klein says he spoke to Skelos about the matter, but did not urge the Republican Leader to also quit his private law practice.

Senator John Flanagan, a Republican from Long Island, is one of  several Senators who report earning more than $100,000 a year from  outside employment, in his case also a law firm. Flanagan says he does not think legislators should quit their private jobs.

“Personally, no, I don’t believe in a ban on outside income,” Flanagan said. “I don’t think there’s any state in the country that has a ban on outside income.”

But Senator Flanagan says he does support greater transparency from lawmakers about the money that they do earn.

Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins and her colleagues first proposed that state lawmakers adopt a policy  similar to the one in congress. It limits outside earnings to 15% of a lawmaker’s salary. State legislators make just under $80,000 a year so up to $12,000 would be allowed.

Senator Stewart Cousins, in an interview with public television and radio,  says lawmakers would also likely need a salary increase to enact the restrictions.

“It’s been almost 16 year since there has been a legislative raise,” said Stewart Cousins. “But I think right now there is more of need to make sure that we are serving the people who send us here to do their work.”

In the State Assembly, Speaker Carl Heastie, who replaced Silver after he resigned,  is also declining to take any outside income. But he was non committal over whether he’d support a total ban or restrictions.

“That’s a decision that we’ll make as a conference,” Heastie said. “I know the governor would like to see something done.”

Governor Cuomo is seeking complete disclosure of outside income from lawmakers, and says he’ll hold up the budget over it.

The developments come as US Attorney Preet Bharara, in an interview on MSNBC, says there are a number of ongoing investigations involving corruption and state government.

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